Lost Texts

My grandmother wrote a poem once that was published in her high school yearbook. I remember reading it with her when I was young–from a hard bound volume with old fashioned script embossed on the cover (it would have been published around 1930). As I recall, the poem was about the changing of the seasons–winter to spring. And my grandmother’s name appeared alongside it–her maiden name which was strange to see in print.

She was as proud of writing the poem as she was of having studied Latin. I studied Latin in high school to be like her, and there was one year that I failed to capture the Latin award at my school’s honor ceremony. The next day I told her about the other awards I’d won, Chemistry, Creative Writing, top student in my class, and then my grandmother asked, “What about the Latin award?”

Unlike the Romans whose texts I studied in high school, this summer at the Louvre I learned about the Phoenicians, who were instrumental the development of the alphabet, but whose writings we have barely any record of because their papyrus manuscripts did not survive the perils of time.

This summer I also read Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” about the historical plight of women writers and women who might have been writers if circumstances had allowed them. The essay ends with Woolf encouraging modern women writers to write for the women who came before them who did not have the opportunity so that these women could live on in them.

My grandmother wrote her poem within a few years of the 1929 publication of Woolf’s essay. I’m not sure if my grandmother wrote any more poems after the one that was published in the yearbook. Or how many she wrote before. I don’t know when she might have started writing or when she stopped. If she had any other poems or manuscripts, my guess is they’ve gone the way of Phoenician papyrus.

Which is too bad because I would have liked to have read more of her writing. Or what she would have written if circumstances allowed.

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